Ever since Linda Blair power-vomited horizontally and her head did the 360 degree swivel, exorcism has been relegated to the horror shelf.
Now a Romanian film, based on two books by BBC journalist Tatiana Niculesco-Bran about an incident that was widely reported at the time, resurrects the genre as a genuine documentary-styled, two-and-a-half hour film that won a shared Best Actress award for Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur at Cannes last year.
The true story of a botched exorcism, there is so much more to Beyond The Hills than dazzling winter cinematography, an authoritarian priest and the love that dares not speak its name. At its heart is a different kind of truth. Can faith be accused of emotional theft? Is sexual obsession a form of mental illness?
Alina (Flutur) returns from four years in Germany to claim her childhood sweetheart Voichita (Stratan) so that they can be together again. However, the younger and more vulnerable Voichita lives with nuns in an Orthodox monastery.
She tells Alina that her commitment to God has changed the intensity and nature of their relationship. Alina goes to the monastery in the hope of changing her mind before the pressure of religious conformity crushes the passion they shared at the orphanage.
What Cristian Mungiu’s film shows is a simple way of life in an isolated, yet structured, society, based on confession, communion and absence of sin, which is attacked, verbally and physically, by an outsider who appears fatally compromised by evil thoughts. It does not take sides, rather reports the strengths and limitations of conflicting beliefs.
Slowly the stranglehold tightens. God has rules, too, and those who do not obey them must be treated as the enemy. Photographed with an eye for the beauty of the bleak, Beyond The Hills neither cheats, nor lies, for the gratification of the audience.